Lorraine Caron, ND
3113 S. Taft Hill Road • Fort Collins, Colorado 80526 • www.drlorrainecaron.com • (970) 232-8447
It’s that time of year – when all the best laid plans and New Year’s resolutions start flying out the window. I know my commitment to exercising regularly has been spotty at best! This time, let’s not feel guilty and give up on our goals. Instead, let’s look at human nature and the psychology of making changes and help ourselves stay on the right track.
Understanding the Process of Change
Chances are, therapists, life coaches, physicians and anyone else involved in helping people change their behavior will be familiar with the transtheoretical or “stages of change” model. Developed in the late 1970s and early 1980s and built upon in the years since, this model gives us a framework for understanding what we do to make changes and what helps at each stage. I’ll try to break it down simply here.
Stage 1: Precontemplation
Basically, this means that you don’t see that there’s a problem, so there’s no reason to make a change. Usually an outside influence shifts a person from this stage: new information, an illness, or an emotional experience that leads to a reevaluation of the situation. Tip: Take advantage of opportunities to reflect or to learn something new. Meditation, prayer, journaling, joining a club, or taking a class are all examples of this kind of opportunity.
Stage 2: Contemplation
Now you know there’s a problem and you’re thinking about what it would take to change - and deciding if it’s worth it. Shifting from this stage generally results from re-visioning yourself – for example, as a non-smoker, as at your ideal weight, or as a healthier person. As this new vision seems more possible, you shift into action. People who have already made the changes you are contemplating can be a big inspiration at this stage. Tip: Make a list of pros and cons, talk with people who have done what you are thinking of doing, or create a vision board.
Stage 3: Preparation
With your “new you” in mind, you start making small changes. You tell people your plans to change and maybe worry about failure. At this stage, programs and plans can be helpful as a starting framework for how to make a change. Weight Watchers, Alcoholics Anonymous, Couch 2 5K and FlyLady are all examples of organizations geared toward helping you plan for (and continue) healthy changes. With your plan sketched out, you’re ready for action. Tip: Write out your goals and hang them on your mirror or refrigerator.
Stage 4: Action
You’re beginning the hard work! Don’t forget, it takes at least a month for a change to become a habit and the day-to-day can be really frustrating. This is often when patients call me up. They’ve tried several things in pursuit of their goal, but they need support, more information, or a more comprehensive program. This is a good thing - helpers are wonderful at this stage! Sponsors, workout buddies and support groups all encourage accountability and provide “cheerleading”. Rewards can help too. Tip: Enlist a support person or join a group of people all working to reach a similar goal.
Stage 5: Maintenance
Here’s where you keep up the good work! Don’t underestimate this stage. Although you can develop a new habit in a month or so, having it become second-nature takes a lot longer. Reinforcement (rewards), helping relationships and your new vision of yourself will help to keep you on track. “Counter-conditioning,” or substituting healthy ways of thinking or healthy habits for unhealthy ones, is another healthy strategy for maintaining changes. Tip: Identify situations, people, or places that you associate with the behavior you’re trying to leave behind and avoid them if you can. For example, if you smoke mainly when out at a bar, consider avoiding going out for a drink, at least until your habit is well and truly kicked.
Stage 6: Relapse or “Recycling”
The first and most important thing to know about relapse is that it is a NORMAL part of the process of making changes! Even the very best will “fall off the wagon” at times. We learn by trial and error and the natural consequences of our actions. Sometimes it takes a lot of mistakes to remind us of the negative consequences! I can’t count the number of times I have lapsed since I became gluten- and dairy-free twelve years ago. It happens a lot less than it did at the beginning, but it still happens. Everyone has relapses. Knowing that, it’s easier to stop beating ourselves up and just climb back on that wagon. Tip: If you find yourself beating yourself up about falling back into old habits – STOP – and consciously remind yourself that it’s okay. Then just start your new behavior again. A small reminder, like a string around your finger, or a sticky note on your computer monitor, can help to remind you to take it easy on yourself.
Cycling through each of these stages over and over is the natural course of shifting to a new way of living. Some people will speed through the stages and others will spend a lot of time in one or more. A lot depends on the changes you are trying to make, as well as your own life situation and personality.
I hope that you have a little better understanding of the process of making changes and that I’ve given you some tools to use on the way. Envision the “new you”, make a commitment, take some time to plan, get support, take action and be gentle with yourself! You can do it.
My office manager, Chantal, is a yoga instructor at Monk Yoga in Loveland. She offers prenatal yoga classes on Fridays at 5:30PM. She will be offering additional classes throughout the year. Please check the schedule for a complete overview of the classes the studio offers.
Prenatal Yoga is a gentle way to help you stay healthy and fit during pregnancy. The focus lies on breathing and relaxation, as well as on strength and stretching. You will also learn several pain-coping methods to help you though labor and birth. This class is a great opportunity to meet other moms-to-be and it is a wonderful way for you to unwind for the weekend. The class is appropriate for all stages in pregnancy, as well as students who are not pregnant, but looking for a gentle yoga practice. No previous yoga experience is required.
A Warming Mid-Winter Recipe
This is a delicious vegan, dairy-free and gluten-free crockpot curry from the Gluten-Free Goddess. It's perfect for simmering in the crockpot and enjoying on a snowy evening.
Before serving, add in the coconut milk, a touch of agave, seasoning and lime or vinegar. Add some chopped cilantro.
Serve spooned over fragrant hot cooked rice.
Makes 4 servings.
In the News
Naturopathic medicine is becoming increasingly popular in Canada and the United States. A recent article on digitaljournal.com reports that Ontario patients are turning more and more to naturopathic medicine and that it is decreasing their costs and increasing their quality of life. You can check it out here.
Happy Valentine's Day!
I wish each of you a happy and healthy Valentine's Day, filled with friends, family and joyful moments.